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Vendor Perspective: Markets in the Time of COVID

Markets paid for, plans in place, starting a stockpile to get ready for the season and the world stopped… or it felt like it did, anyways.  Covid came and threw each and every one of us for a loop.

Owning a small business in this time has been for many of us.. challenging.  We have had to quickly evolve and change to fit into this new world as a crafter/artisan.  Coming up with safe means to keep our product out there (touchless deliveries and pick ups, touchless payments, e commerce, etc…), it has been daunting to many of us who were used to the frequent markets we attended.  For a while there, we were unsure any markets would happen at all.

The New Reality

With social distancing in place, many of the aspects that made markets so fun for us have changed.  Set up and take down were always a very social time with everyone helping each other (especially at outdoor markets), now many folks set up and take down quickly.  Chatting with fellow vendors and customers has lessened.  A group of people can no longer stand in front of your booth to hear about your product.. only one or two, 6 feet apart. 

We have a food product… no samples are allowed right now.  The delicious smells wafting through the markets are no longer there and husbands exclaiming, “This is just like Costco!” with their hands full of delicious samples from vendors is a not so distant memory.

With markets getting cancelled left, right and centre, the future of the traditional craft show was definitely in question and organizers have had to evolve and adapt to run a market during a pandemic.

I cannot even imagine the lengths to which the organizers have to go in this day and age to organize an outdoor event.  Permission from the landowners, setting up physical barriers, safety measures, frequent calls to the health department to set up an approved safety plan, setting up the space, their efforts are Herculean.

Our Experience At Carp Farmers’ Market

We attend the Carp Farmers Market weekly.  Last year, we were inside, but this year, all vendors are outdoors for safety and while not a full complement of vendors, there are still 40 plus and a well-curated and diverse range of produce and products.

Loading in

Indoor bathrooms are closed to everyone (including vendors) and a portable washroom is rented weekly and brought onsite.  The market manager and his trusty group of helpers arrive between 3 and 4 a.m. every Saturday to begin the very long setup process to keep all of us, vendors and customers alike, safe.

As we pull into the market, we put on our masks (mandatory for vendors at Carp) we are stopped by a helper holding a laser temperature gun who takes our temperature and we are asked if we have been out of the country, are we feeling ill or have we felt ill during the week, have we been around anyone who is ill and more questions before we can even enter the grounds.  Once we pass the safety stop, we pull into the horseshoe shaped market area. 

Managing Shopper Flow

Once the vendors have pulled into their stalls, a rope is placed a foot in front of our tent and continues throughout the whole market to encourage no proximity or touching of any products.  According to the health department current guidelines, if any product is even accidentally touched, it must immediately be removed from the table, disinfected, removed for the rest of the day and/or be disposed of.  Carp’s ropes ensure that no products are touched throughout the market.

Arrows point customers in the directional flow which is one way only and the ropes and helpers encourage folks to stay on the path.

Sanitation Stations

There are 3 sanitation stations set up through the market.  One at the beginning, one at the middle and one at the end.  At each table is posted a Health Department document on how to safely social distance, safety rules for attending the market as a customer (ie: if you are feeling ill, if you have travelled, you should not be attending the market that day) as well as large bottles of hand sanitizer and directions on how to properly sanitize your hands and encouragement to do so frequently.  These sanitation stations are also disinfected regularly throughout the morning, as are the portable toilets for the safety of the public and vendors alike.

Booth Set Up Changes

Outdoors our tents are set up for us (Carp provides tents and sets them up for us… can you say luxury??) and we pull through them with our vehicles (LOVE to be able to park right behind our booth). 

We used to bring one table with us, now we bring 3.. Why?  Social distancing and safety.  We place two tables in front of each other.  And the third is a smaller table we call our “pick up” table.  The front table simply has a table cloth on it and our Square machine (for touchless transactions – thank you chip cards!) and business cards.  

At our second table (placed behind the empty one), we put our table cloth on and our products in a row.  While before, customers could pick up items and ask questions, this simply isn’t allowed or feasible during Covid, so we have adapted.  We created a vertical sign (Thank you Vistaprint) with a list of our products on it, saving customers from having to try and lean forward to read the flavours. 

Behind our soup mixes, we have a pack of Lysol wipes, a box of gloves, a bottle of Purell and a small garbage bag solely for our use to be taken to our home at the end of the event.

Serving Customers

When a customer has chosen their soups, the soups are placed into a paper bag with handles and placed onto the pick up table.  This table is wiped down with Lysol wipes frequently throughout the day as is our front table for safety.

To adapt, we have our float/change in our waist apron and no new money ever goes into there, it is simply for change.  We purchased 2 children’s fishing nets which are telescopic and customers place the money into the net, which is then transferred into a small plastic container (Purell is used every single time money is touched).  We do not touch the money from sales for at least 3 days at home for our safety, so we count it mid week and also replenish the float. 

Adapting and Moving Forward

So many people are starting to come out to the outdoor markets, a lovely day out for the family and to help the children from going stir crazy.  While it is not as social as it once was, the spirit of the markets and its vendors and customers is a pleasure to behold. 

It is amazing to see how we have all adapted in this current world, though we all long for the return of normality.  Will this change the face of markets as we know them?  Only time will tell.  For now, stay healthy, stay safe and stay connected (in a socially safe kind of way) and we will get through this together.  After all.. we are Canada Strong!!

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